Armed Forces was successful, but a handful of PR mistakes collided to derail any momentum Elvis Costello had gained in America. With the exception of a few scattered singles, his career never recovered on this side of the pond.
Back home in the UK, he kept busy producing the first album by The Specials, then decamped to Holland with the Attractions to work on his next album. This time the influence was a stack of Motown and Stax 45s, with the ska and dub sounds of the Specials hanging over the edges. With ten songs crammed onto each side, Get Happy!! delivers a hell of a bang for your buck.
Despite the misleading back cover listing, "Love For Tender" sets the pace with pointed puns and breakneck speed, followed by the contrast of the softer "Opportunity." Such give and take between styles continues throughout the side, with no noticeable repetition. Nearly every song has something to offer: "The Imposter" would give him a pseudonym down the road; "Possession" and "New Amsterdam" ape the Beatles without stealing; "King Horse" and "Clowntime Is Over" are soul showstoppers; and "High Fidelity" takes his wordplay to even higher levels. And that’s just side one.
Side two is virtually bookended by a couple of obscure Sam & Dave covers, surrounding some dub-tinged arrangements ("Black And White World," "B Movie," "Human Touch") and more soul ("Motel Matches," "5ive Gears In Reverse," "Temptation"). But the true finale is the pointed, passionate "Riot Act," the angry suicide note that closes the album.
While the original LP boasted twenty tracks, each of the reissues has trumpeted a similar abundance. The 1994 version is packed to capacity, adding ten B-sides and/or demos, plus an unlisted snippet of the demo for "Love For Tender," which cuts off abruptly.
The 2003 version included a whopping fifty tracks on two discs — the original LP on one, with the 1994 bonuses (including the complete "Love For Tender" demo) and additional outtakes, demos and live tracks on the other. The extras give a glimpse at more of the influences that shaped the album, as well as some one-man-band tracks that kept collectors busy. But taken on its own, Get Happy!! is truly one of his best.